Driven’s long-term test car, the BMW 320d Sport Edition, is transformed from a relaxed motorway cruiser to a tight, agile roadster at the flick of a switch, as Tony Verdon explains.
The BMW 3 Series 2-litre, four-cylinder diesel can be a docile but comfortable motorway cruiser ... but its character changes when it is slipped into Sport or Sport plus mode.
A simple switch between the two front seats turns the 3 Series from a loping luxury four-door sedan into an aggressive sports car eager to take on whatever the road throws at it. Most of the 5500km we travelled in Driven's long-term test car has been on State Highway One, or similar secondary roads, where the default Comfort mode suited the road and traffic conditions.
There is strong acceleration from the common rail diesel engine, and a relaxed but still sharp feel to the steering. There is plenty of rapid power to pass slower traffic when conditions allow, and the ride is firm but comfortable.
The car has dynamic stability control, and dynamic traction control, which ensure good traction when pulling away at traffic lights or intersections, or when accelerating through the gears.
It all happens without drama or tyre squeal, and in total comfort.
But on a virtually empty, windy back-country sealed road this model give the driver the chance to wind down some of these electronic aids by switching the car into Sport mode. This deactivates the dynamic stability control and dynamic traction control systems, and the steering and chassis are tuned to different settings, making for a far tighter and sportier drive.
Tony Verdon testing the BMW 320D Sport Edition for Driven Magazine. Photo / Ted Baghurst.
This model sits 10cm lower than its 3 Series counterparts, and the sports mode adjusts the shock absorbers to provide a more agile driving experience.
The steering becomes even more responsive, and somewhat heavier. The car dives into sharp corners and roars through them with more urgency, but once again without unnecessary drama.
The brakes are reassuringly firm and robust. The car has an anti-lock braking system, as you would expect, but it also has Brake Assist, which automatically applies maximum braking power assistance, making full use of the advantages of ABS.
The four brake calipers are blue on this model, providing one of the few distinguishing or showy design features setting it apart from other 3 Series models.
The sports mode comes into its own on windy roads such as the Wayby Valley, between Mangawhai and Warkworth, and the even twistier road over Mt Tiger on the Whangarei Heads, east of Whangarei.
Driving both roads in a more sedate model can become a seemingly never-ending trial, the only consolation being glimpses of great scenery.
But the BMW in Sport mode provides a thrilling drive which is over all too quickly.